What are Chilblains? Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

A foot with chilblains on toes

How to Get Rid of Chilblains and Foot Pain

Chilblains are inflamed, swollen patches of skin caused by being out in cold, damp conditions. They can be painful and often occur on the toes and fingers. While chilblains typically heal on their own within a few weeks, keeping the affected area warm and dry is key if you want to get rid of chilblains fast.

PowerStep® orthotic wool insoles and slippers with arch support can help relieve and prevent foot pain in cold weather including the development and management of chilblains. Learn how with the following information about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of the condition.

Why You Get Painful Toes in Cold Weather

You may have heard about chilblains being called pernio, perniosis, or cold-induced vascular disorder. They usually occur on the feet and hands, but can also affect the ears, face, and lower legs.

One reason why people develop chilblains or have painful toes when cold is poor circulation. When exposed to frigid air, the small blood vessels close to your skin tighten. When these tissues warm up, they may expand too quickly, leaking fluid into surrounding tissues and causing swelling and pain. One way you can improve blood flow to your feet while keeping them warm is wearing wool arch support inserts.

PowerStep Pinnacle wool insoles have our signature arch support that is clinically proven to relieve and prevent pain. Having quality arch support in your shoes or boots helps improve alignment and stimulation underfoot, which promotes healthy circulation in the feet and lower body. Plus, these wool felt insoles are insulating and moisture-wicking to help your feet warm and dry.

Grey wool insoles on snow

What do chilblains look like?

Within a few hours of being out in cold, wet conditions, you might notice red, swollen patches on your hands, feet, or face. Blistering can occur and the patches might appear shiny due to swelling. Sometimes, chilblains can look purple or blue on people with different complexions.

woman’s hands with chilblains on fingers


Symptoms of chilblains usually show up after you've already been in the cold and start to warm up. Some individuals might get chilblains every year around the same time. The most common signs include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters or sores
  • Itchiness
  • Burning or stinging pain
  • Tenderness

It is important to note that chilblains happen in cold temperatures, but not freezing. They are different from frostbite, and you should see a doctor if you share similar symptoms and are unsure whether you were out in below freezing temperatures.

Why are chilblains so painful?

When the body is exposed to cold, it focuses its heat on the core to keep important organs warm. This means less blood flows to the extremities, like your fingers and toes. As a result, they may become inflamed, red, and itchy. When you warm up, the sudden increase in blood flow can create swelling, which irritates the nerves and causes pain.

This phenomenon may explain why your cold, painful toes still hurt even after you've tried to warm them up using a source of heat like a fire or hot water.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of chilblains is unknown, but health experts believe it may be related to poor circulation. You might be at an increased risk of developing perniosis if you:

  • Wear clothes or shoes that are too tight or expose your face, hands, and feet to the cold.
  • Are a woman between the ages of 15 and 30.
  • Are underweight or have a low body mass.
  • Live in a cold, humid climate.
  • Have a family history of the condition.
  • Experience hormonal changes.

Another major risk factor for developing chilblains is underlying medical conditions like Raynaud’s syndrome, peripheral arterial disease, lupus, connective tissue disease, or diabetes. It is especially important for diabetics to look after their foot health.

Treating Chilblains with Self-Care

A comfortable foot is a healthy foot and orthotic insoles help keep your feet pain-free with support, stability, and cushioning. Wool insoles also help regulate temperature and reduce perspiration. Hate walking on cold floors? Our PowerStep women’s orthotic slippers and men’s orthotic slippers feature a removeable wool insole, keeping feet warm, cozy, and protected.

woman sitting on steps wearing brown orthotic slippers

Self-care remedies like limiting your time in the cold and dressing in warm, loose layers is how to prevent chilblains and treat them. Here are other ways you can soothe and treat chilblains at home:

  • Avoid going out in the cold.
  • Gradually warm yourself up with a blanket or warm clothing.
  • Avoid applying heat directly to the area.
  • Do not rub or massage the area, as this can make irritation worse.
  • Moisturize with a gentle, unscented lotion or an anti-inflammatory cream.
  • Wear loose layers that won’t restrict circulation including hats, gloves, and moisture-wicking socks.
  • Avoid walking barefoot on cold surfaces with a pair of cozy orthotic slippers.
  • Wear water resistant shoes or boots with arch support from wool insoles for boots.
  • Keep any blisters or sores clean to stave off infection.

man sitting in recliner in living room wearing gray orthotic slippers

Staying active in winter can help prevent chilblains by improving your blood flow and overall health. When it is too cold to exercise outdoors, consider taking your workout indoors and going for a walk on the treadmill or trying indoor cycling. If you’re a smoker, consider quitting as it narrows blood vessels and slows healing.

When to See a Doctor about Chilblains

If your symptoms do not improve after two weeks, see your healthcare provider. They can diagnose chilblains by looking at the affected area and discussing your symptoms. A blood test can help verify whether your chilblains have an underlying cause.

Doctors may prescribe topical corticosteroid creams to help reduce inflammation or blood pressure medications to help treat the cause of your chilblains. Getting medical treatment may help lower the risk of your chilblains reoccurring next year.

See a healthcare provider immediately if you think you have chilblains but are not sure whether you’ve been exposed to below freezing conditions as it may be a sign of frostbite instead.

Prevent Cold Weather Foot Pain with PowerStep

When the cold weather makes your foot pain worse, PowerStep wool shoe insoles and slippers keep your feet warm while preventing and relieving pain. Wearing orthotic insoles will not treat conditions like chilblains, but they can promote healthy alignment and encourage blood flow to prevent painful foot conditions.

Shop PowerStep Pinnacle wool insoles

PowerStep does not diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please see a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms of chilblains that will not go away. PowerStep orthotic insoles and slippers with arch support may help reduce symptoms of chilblains, but do not treat the condition.


Chilblains - Symptoms and causes. (2023, January 13). Mayo Clinic.

Chilblains (Pernio): What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment. (2021, September 24). Cleveland Clinic.

Chilblains symptoms, treatments, and how to best manage them. (n.d.). Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK.